A Founding Father’s Books Turn Up
— NY Times, Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Dear Dr. L.,
I feel so many opportunities in the course of life these days to
think of my teachers from the old school. You have weathered the
years well. Not only do you live in my imagination, and my memory,
but what you taught me by virtue of standards and models alone has
enriched my life and I am sure account for the measure by which I
parse the world in my own little way, sometimes to my frustration
for what you planted for me has grown slowly or not at all in other
places, ways, people (heaven forbid that I am judging but – I am).
Often I feel how I would like to inform you of this or that –
something I have read or something discovered that you would
appreciate – in the other world you are no doubt preoccupied with
greater pursuits, sitting with texts, taking sunshine with the great
Rabbis, pouring over the manuscripts you couldn’t identify in life
but suspected were of the hand of this scribe, that scribe, sitting
with the Holy One in the great yeshivahs on high learning the mystery
texts that disappeared in life and are now in the great libraries of
the next world — yours is a blessed existence I am sure.
I was just reading something in the newspaper that delighted me and I
am sure would have delighted you, and if it’s not available there, I
want to share with the one person who I know would chuckle and I can
see that smile curling the corners of your mouth hesitating towards
the peak where you were thinking “this is funny” but never daring to
expose your feelings in so blatant a way (no doubt an emotional
residue from your pause in England on your escape route from the
Nazis to the rare books collection at the College where we met).
Dr. – in the town where I live they recently identified 74 books that
belonged to the library of one of our early Presidents who of all the
Presidents of our youthful country was the most bibliophilic. I just
had to tell you. They have had these texts in their collection since
One of the founders of the university in my town — a grandfather of that less than
friendly friend of our people Thomas Stearns (who became English and snooty)
and whose grandfather seems to have been a colleague at Harvard of the donor
of President Thomas Jefferson’s books — that grandfather and founder of the university in my town received
a certain part of President Jefferson’s retirement collection of books around 1880.
That must seem to you a rather simple pursuit when I consider that
you were the curator of ancient books identifying for our modest
College manuscripts from several millennia by location and
sometimes even scribe.
These books of President Jefferson have been in the collection in the
library of my town since 1880 and – this is the part I know you would
appreciate – the President labeled his books with his initials “TJ.”
Isn’t that wonderful? The scholarly resources of the university
library just identified the books as belonging to President Thomas Jefferson
and in my town they are celebrating this remarkable find [lost-and-find].
My beloved teacher, I just had to share this with you. I find myself
in awe at the world as it has formed and the one whose image you
placed in my mind, in the distance between the two I fill with your
I knew you would enjoy this story and if I could peek into the other
world for just a moment, I would witness again the corners of your
mouth beginning that managed rise north-wards, not quite a smile but
you and I know how funny life is.
Your student always,
James Stone Goodman